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The Infamous Top Ten of 2013

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The time of year has come to compile the infamous top ten list, summing up the best of the best from throughout the year. And while I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t been piecing one together over the past three months, it is still an act of brain wracking and constant change that is in part requisite and in part cathartic. For most of us, the top ten list is the Everest of the movie year. And so, from the 150+ movies I’ve seen in 2013, narrowing it all down to ten is no cake walk but the process of distilling down to a minute selection is a great opportunity to revisit and reflect on some of the greats of the year.

Striking the right balance between “favorite films” and “quality films” is as crucial a factor in the construction of this list as taking into account how likely I’ll be to enjoy this film down the line. Sufficed to say, it’s more than just recounting the grades that I’ve handed out throughout the year and jamming them into a linear position.

All five of the films which I seated with an A+ made the list but, strangely enough, not one film I granted an A to had what it takes to really cross enough into the “favorite” category. More than anything, this list is comprised of the films that I enjoyed the most, have affected me most strongly, that I have reflected on again and again, and see myself watching over and over again. But to make sure that I acknowledge those lingering on the precipice I’m also going to get into the runner-ups that didn’t quite push the envelope quite far enough.

For every victor that made its way into this highly subjective top ten list there is that barrage of those that didn’t quite make the cut; those that flirted with the top ten and got left on the editing floor.

I’ve included two of these close call lists and have detailed them in no particular order: Honorable Mentions; more genre movies who I want to tip my hat to as they were all movies I thoroughly enjoyed at the theater; and Outskirts; those that were just on the tipping point of the TT but just didn’t have the oomph to push them into them over the cuff.

Honorable Mentions:

Populaire
Frozen
Stoker
The World’s End
Elysium
Oblivion
Rush
Mud
Blackfish
This is the End

Outskirts:

All is Lost
The Hunt
The Conjuring
Laurence Anyways
Captain Phillips
Prisoners
What Maisie Knew
Fruitvale Station
Frances Ha
Only God Forgives

With that out of the way, join me on page two to count down the first five of the Infamous Top Ten List…


 10. THE SPECTACULAR NOW/SHORT TERM 12

I figure I needed to shake things up somewhere down the line and why not start early and throw a tie in to throw people off? It’s been many months since I watched both of these coming of ages gems and, after much figuring, tweaking, and re-figuring, I found acknowledging one without the other was somewhat disingenuous to what I’m trying to accomplish with this list. So I went with the ol’ cop-out tie. Both took razor sharp looks at youth in society, both saw surprising, great performances from their young stars, and the direction of each meant the exposure of directors surging with storytelling prowess and emotional honesty. Aside from being a really honest teen drama, The Spectacular Now had the type of heart that made it stand out through the year.

“Dodging the stuffy trappings of many coming-of-age tales by reworking their stereotypes to its benefit, The Spectacular Now eclipses expectation. Instead of avoiding clichés entirely, Ponsoldt uses them to his advantage. And while the framework for the genre has clearly already been established, it rarely results in something this good and all around meaningful. It joins the ranks of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Superbad as timeless films about the difficulty of transition and the promise of human connection while carving out enough of a name for itself to be remembered years down the line.” Full review here.

And while The Spectacular Now challenged us to look at high school sagas in a way that recognizes the dormant maturity and incumbent stress of our schooling years, Short Term 12 looked at a group of under-appreciated social workers, who like trashmen, take the leftovers of society’s unwanted, misplaced, and abandoned children and how difficult running an underfunded facility like Short Term 12 is for these criminally under-supported caretakers.

“Thanks to a charged-up level of emotional maturity, the film tackles difficult issues with careful footing – immediately establishing a reverent tone, dipped with charm and laced with smiles. The psychological trauma uncovered within the character’s brick-walled hearts is likewise handled with tender precision. Each reaction the film garnishes is no accident. Every bit has its place, a building block towards a grand scheme that ultimately delivers a big pay-off for those willing to engage in the bumps along the road.” Full review here.

Both were staggering achievements that most likely won’t be find footing in many other Top Ten lists so I’m glad that I can include them both amongst mine. Going forward though, I promise, no more ties.

9. OUT OF THE FURNACE


Another criminally underrated film of 2013, Out of the Furnace is certainly no walk in the park and I could have my arm twisted to say that it’s the darkest entry on this list (many of you will probably cry heretic but just roll with me here.) Bleak and unblinking, Scott Cooper‘s follow-up to the overrated Jeff Bridge‘s drama Crazy Heart cuts to the bone of issues bubbling over in America and did it without spoonfeeding them down your throat. Stir that in with a career best performance from Christian Bale, an unforgettable villain courtesy of Woody Harrelson and the best scene involving a hot dog of all time and Out of the Furnace earns its place on this man’s list.

Out of the Furnace is not the movie you expect, it’s not quite the movie you think you want, and it’s certainly not a movie you’ll see coming, but it is one of the best movies of 2013. Petering along a solemn road of America as industrialized hellhole, the jet-black tone and snail’s pace cadence of the film may prove too overbearing for some but those willing to dive into the mire will find a film overflowing with themes of chaotic grace, personal sacrifice, ego death, spiritual deterioration, and unbounded duty. Many similarities to early Kurosawa samurai films and Drive – which itself is largely plotted like a samurai film – emerge and make the film rich with subtext, even though unearthing that subtext is a bit of a harrowing chore.” Full review here.

8. NEBRASKA

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Keeping in line with movies that harness the allure of the darkly comic, Nebraska hangs tight with its mix of banal humor and caustic sentimentality. Bruce Dern‘s Woody is as iconic and memorable a character as 2013 has seen and his strange blend of cluelessness and strong moral foundation seed just the right type of fundamental irony to reap rich comedy and drama from. But beneath the black humor of Nebraska is a nagging sense of urgency – this is a film that, no matter how small the scope may seem, is monumentally characteristic of society at large. Themes of economy, family, and destiny give the film purpose and secure it amongst the top shelf of 2013.

Nebraska starts with the old school painted mountains of the Paramount logo, a veiled reminder of the golden days of the USA, and jumps into an austere black-and-white landscape of Montana as Bruce Dern‘s Woody Grant stumbles down the snowy strip of government manicured grass between some train tracks and a largely vacant highway. Convinced he has won a million dollar prize, Woody’s intent on claiming his winnings in Nebraska even if that means walking the entire eight hundred mile trip on foot. A reminder of how off the tracks his life has veered, Woody sees his not-too-good-to-be-true grand prize as a means to a life he never had – a golden ticket to meaningfulness and utility long lost.” Full review here

7. GRAVITY

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As much as I wanted to fall head over heels for Gravity, I did have some standing flaws with its narrative. But those weren’t quite enough to overshadow just how marvelous a technical achievement Gravity truly is. Looking over 2013’s films that really wowed me, it’s impossible to not place this in the forefront. The fact that I saw it twice in the course of a week alone is enough to substantiate my ranking of this film amongst the best of the best, narrative issues aside. While it lacked the intellectual oomph and metaphorical undercurrents I was crossing my fingers for, the visual palette that Alfonso Cuarón played with here is easily the year’s best and some of the most impressive and immerse camerawork of all time.

“Gravity is pure entertainment done right and it’s achieved with transcendent technical mastery. Seamlessly blending nail-biting moments of suspense with quiet character moments in the vacuum of space, Cuarón has achieved a rare technical feat that sometimes overwhelms its lingering emotional subplot. But more than anything, it is a staggering success and one that will be appreciated by all. Cuarón has definitely chartered a new course here, setting the effects bar higher still than films like Inception or Avatar. Gravity is simply a game changer.” Full review here.

6. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS